By Ken Martin
ROSIN UP THE BOW: Patty and I think we’ve found one of the best live entertainment bargains in Castro Valley. And it’s not in a normal entertainment venue like you might think. In fact, it’s in a church but is not connected with religion.
Recently we visited the monthly meeting of the California State Old Time Fiddlers Association, District 9, in the multipurpose room of the United Methodist Church on Wisteria Avenue. On arrival, we were warmly greeted by several members who made us feel very welcome. Since we were first time visitors, we didn’t have to pay the usual admission fee of $3.00. That’s a one-time courtesy. We’ll have to pay when we go back, which we certainly will do some time in the near future.
The first thing we noticed was that, in spite of the name “fiddlers”, in the aggregate there appeared to be more guitars, banjos, and mandolins than fiddles, plus a couple of harmonicas, in the room. Members apparently are able to play whatever appropriate instrument they choose but it must be acoustic with no direct amplification. To me, this was a welcome respite from the overbearing loud music that we must put up with these days.
Things finally got rolling with the first group, consisting of a fiddle, guitar, steel guitar with 85-year-old John Helm doing vocals on some Hank Williams and Willie Nelson songs. They were followed by Rob Breisch on guitar and vocal with Perry Blackmon fiddling. And so it went for three hours of great old-time and bluegrass music by groups and soloists.
Lest you think that this is a geriatric event, the ages of the performers ran the gamut from John Helm at 85 to fiddler Alicia Cress, a tender 10 years of age, with musicians of all ages in between. And no one is pressured to perform. They play when and because they want to. All they have to do is put their names on a white board and they are on the schedule for the day. I also notice some people with instruments that sat in the audience and quietly played along with the featured performers, never putting their name on the white board and going to the front of the room. Wherever it came from, the music was great with one of the highlights coming toward the end of the day.
Written on the white board was “The Double AJ’s”. Soon these performers, Alicia Cress, 10, with her 12-year-old sister Angelina, both with fiddles, played a set that was easily on a par with anything we had heard that afternoon. It was great to see these youngsters perpetuating this type of great music.
And if there wasn’t enough music in the main room, all you had to do was go into a smaller back room and you were in the middle of an ongoing jam session! What a treat!
I don’t have space here to name all of these great performers because there were plenty of them. And, unfortunately, I cannot convey their great sounds in this column because it’s the wrong medium. The best offer I can make is to invite you to be at the Unitarian Church, 19806 Wisteria Avenue, CV, at 1:30 on the fourth Sunday of every month (except December) and hear these great musicians for yourself. Patty and I will be back. It’s a great afternoon’s entertainment!!